Jan Hus – Czech Republic

July 6

It’s a busy week in the Czech Republic, where inhabitants celebrate not one, but two public holidays in honor of not two, but three prominent theologians. Yesterday Czechs and Slovaks alike honored the Saints Cyril and Methodius, and today Czechs recall national hero Jan Hus, the forerunner of Protestant Reformation who was burnt at the stake on this day in 1415.

Statue of Jan Hus in Prague

The late 14th century was not the best of times for the Papacy. Having just returned from 70 years in France, later called the “Babylonian captivity” of the Papacy, French cardinals were eager to elect another French Pope. Riotous Roman crowds had another idea. Under duress the cardinals elected a Neapolitan to the Papacy in 1378, then hightailed it back to France to elect the “real” French Pope. Of course both Popes retained the title, and governments around Europe were forced to declare allegiance to one or the other.

Jan Hus grew up in Bohemia during this tumultuous epoch. He studied at the recently-established University of Prague, becoming a professor of theology in 1398, a priest at Bethlehem Chapel two years later, and eventually rector of the University.

Hus was an outspoken proponent of church reform. At this time the Church owned nearly half the land in Bohemia, yet taxed the poor rampantly. Hus spoke out against abuses in the church, including the widespread indulgence system which undermined the sanctity of Christian piety. He supported the preaching and reading of the Bible in common languages, and he opposed the recent doctrine of Papal infallibilit. Most controversially, Hus made the ‘heretical’ claim that the final authority of Christian Law lay not with pope, but with the Bible.

In 1409, in an attempt to end the papal Schism, bishops at the Council of Pisa elected a third Pope (Alexander “the Antipope” V) to replace the other two. However, rather than resolve the Schism, this only resulted in three concurrent Popes.

Jan Hus and his supporter King Wenceslaus declared allegiance to the third Pope, but when Alexander V’s successor issued a new wave of indulgences to raise money for a war against the King of Naples, Hus proclaimed that no pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church. In rallying his followers against the indulgences, he also lost the support of King Wenceslaus who was sharing in the profits.

In 1414 Hus was asked to journey to Council of Constance (which sought to end the Schism once and for all), to which he was assured safe conduct by the Emperor of Luxembourg. When he arrived he found himself put on trial by the Council and imprisoned in Gottlieben Castle in chains. The bishops had convinced the Emperor that promises of safe conduct did not apply to heretics.

Hus was given many chances to recant his writings. He deplored false interpretations of his works, but stated he could not renounce beliefs unless they could be proven untrue by the words of the Holy Scripture. He was condemned to death in July 1415. Just before his execution he declared,

God is my witness that I have never taught that of which I have been accused by false witnesses. In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached I will die to-day with gladness.

Hus was also said to have uttered a prediction that in 100 years a man would come whose calls for reform could not be ignored, foreshadowing Martin Luther and the Protestant Revolution.

Spiezer Chronik's depiction of the death of Jan Hus, 1485

Hussitism and the Heritage of Jan Hus

John Huss, Priest and Martyr

John Hus: English Bible History

Jan Hus: Final Declaration

Saints Cyril & Methodius – Slovakia

July 5

St. Cyril and St. Methodius, the two missionary brothers who gave birth to the written Slovak language, are celebrated by the Eastern Catholic Church in May. (The exploits of the Brothers are detailed here.) But in the early 20th century the Roman Catholic feast day for the saints, held on July 5, took on a new importance.

After the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Slovaks around the world struggled to defend their national identity. When the Czechs declared July 6 a public holiday, in honor of 15th century Protestant forerunner Jan Hus, Slovaks pushed for the feast day of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, July 5, as a national celebration as well as religious one. Today it’s celebrated in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Gettin’ Glagolitic with Cyril & Methodius

St. Peter & St. Paul

June 29

In a word,
Never let go on these three things:
Faith, hope and love.
And know that the greatest of these
Will always be love

I Corinthians 13:13

June 29 is the Feast Day of St. Peter and St. Paul. Each gets his own saint day, but in the Venn diagram of the Catholic Church, June 29 marks the intersection of the two.

The two Apostles couldn’t have been more different. St. Peter was Christ’s most devoted follower and leader of the Apostles. A simple fisherman, he was born as Simon. His name Peter comes from Petros for ‘rock’. Jesus referred to Simon as his rock, saying “Upon this Rock I will build my church.”

Paul was born Saul, a wrathful and often vicious persecutor of the early Christians, who never encountered Jesus outside his visions. It wasn’t until his vision on the road to Damascus that he was “blinded by the light”. Following his conversion, Paul became the most prolific converter of non-Christians to the faith the world has ever known.

The scriptures don’t detail the death of either saint. It’s believed St. Peter was crucified upside-down. As a Roman citizen, Paul was very likely beheaded. The saints are remembered jointly today because their remains were temporarily moved on June 29, around the year 258 AD to prevent their desecration during the Valerian persecution.

St. Peter & St. Paul

Leaders of the Apostles

Pauline Chronology

San Isidro – Spain

May 15


Just when Madrid sobers up from back-to-back celebrations of Labor Day and Dos de Mayo, it pulls out all the stops for the week-long celebration of San Isidro.

San Isidro (1070-1130) is Madrid’s patron saint, whose feast day falls on May 15.

A simple farm worker, Isidro never had much money, never led a diocese or congregation, never fought in a war, and was not martyred or notably persecuted for his faith. Nor was his wife Santa Maria de la Cabeza (Saint Mary of the Head). And yet Maria and Isidro are among the few husband-and-wife teams to be canonized in 2000 years of Christendom. (Though it did take 500 years for the Pope to do so.)

[Iberian Gothic? 12th century saints Ysidro & Maria reincarnated]

The couple lived in poverty for most of their lives, but they were known for their generosity, giving more to the poor than they kept for themselves. Stories of Isidro’s miracles, like the materialization of food and water for the hungry, are reminiscent of Jesus feeding the masses with a single loaf of bread. According to legend, one day Isidro’s scythe struck the earth, and a spring burst forth with enough water to sustain the whole city.

In the 900 years since Isidro and Maria walked the earth, farmers have called on them for relief in times of drought.

The holiday also marks the beginning of bullfighting season. Spanish bullfighting traces its roots back to Mithras, imported from the Middle East either through Rome or North Africa.

“The killing of the sacred bull (tauromachy) is the essential central iconic act of Mithras, which was commemorated in the mithraeum wherever Roman soldiers were stationed. Many of the oldest bullrings in Spain are located on the sites of, or adjacent to the locations of temples to Mithras.”

If you’re with PETA, and bullfighting doesn’t do it for you, concerts and dancing fill the streets the whole week. Parks are converted into open-air verbenas, where celebrants wear traditional attire: chulos and majos for the guys, chulapas and majas for the ladies.

Chulo is a derogatory term sometimes applied by other Spaniards to the inhabitants of Madrid. It means arrogant. But the Madrilenos take it in stride. Dressed in chulo and chulapa costumes, performers live up to their name in a stylized dance of exaggerated arrogance.

Strange that a holiday in honor of a man so down-to-earth would be celebrated by imbibing vast quantities of alcohol and performing dances that exude arrogance.  But as the Spanish say…

Cada uno en su casa, y Dios en la de todos.

San Isidro and Santa Maria

San Isidro in Madrid

San Isidro the Laborer: A Worker’s Life Anchored in Christ

Madrid’s Festival of San Isidro

St. Isidore: the Patron Saint of Farmers

Our Lady of Fátima – Portugal

May 13

Our Lady of Fatima

Sightings of the Virgin Mary date all the way back to 40 AD when the Virgin Mary first appeared to the Apostle James in Spain. They’ve occurred all over the world, in communities big and small, and the sightings continue to this day. In fact…

“Just last week, the Virgin Mary appeared in the form of a stain on a griddle at Las Palmas restaurant in Calexico, California. More than 100 people have come to gaze upon it, manager Brenda Martinez told the Imperial Valley Press…” — The Standard – May 13, 2009

But the most famous sighting in modern times may be the one that took place on this day (May 13) in 1917 in Fátima, Portugal. As the World War raged throughout Europe, three Portuguese children—Francisco and Jacinta Marto, ages 9 and 7, and their cousin Lucia Dos Santos, age 10—were building a wall in the fields when their play was interrupted by a flash of lightning.

“They thought that a storm was brewing and herded the sheep together to take them home. They once again saw a flash of lightening and shortly afterwards they saw above a small holm oak tree a Lady dressed entirely in white and shining more brilliantly than the sun.”

The apparition answered the children’s questions on heaven, and entreated them to return on the 13th of each month thereafter. At subsequent encounters she told them about heaven, hell, and God’s message. Over the next 5 months, word spread of the children’s encounters. By October 13, 70,000 people gathered in the field hoping to catch a glimpse of “Our Lady of Fátima” (now also known as “Our Lady of the Rosary”).

“After the long extensive rains, the sky became blue, people could easily look into the sun, which started to spin round like a wheel of fire which radiated wonderful shafts of light in all sorts of colours. The people, the hills, the trees and everything in Fatima seemed to radiate these marvellous colours.

Then the sun stood still for a moment then the wonderful thing that had happened reoccurred. It was repeated for a third time. But now the sun broke loose from the heavens and came down to earth with a zigzagging movement. It became bigger and bigger and looked as though it would fall on the people and flatten them. All were frightened and fell to the ground while they prayed for mercy and forgiveness.” —  http://www.marypages.eu/fatimaEng.htm

Jacinta, Lucia, & Francisco

Sadly, Francisco died only 2 years later and Jacinta the year after that.  Pope John Paul II beatified Francisco and Jacinta on May 13, 2000. Lucia lived to the ripe old age of 97. She died in 2005.

May 13 is celebrated in Portugal and by many Portuguese Catholics in other parts of the world. On May 13, 2009, “The 13th Day”, about the miracle of Fátima, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

Gettin’ Glagolitic with Cyril & Methodius

May 11

Born in Thessaloniki in the 820’s, Cyril and Methodius are considered ‘Equals with the Apostles’ in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but were overlooked by the Roman Catholic Church for nearly a thousand years.

Sts. Cyril & Methodius

Cyril & Methodius were two missionary brothers with a gift for language. In the 860’s the Prince of Great Morovia (in Eastern Europe) entrusted them with the task of translating Biblical texts into the Slavic tongue of Great Morovia. They had one major obstacle: No such language existed. At least not in any standardized, written form. The Slavic languages were a collection of spoken dialects that stretched from Russia to the Adriatic coast.

The brothers first had to devise a whole new alphabet, named Glagolitsa (a variation of the Greek alphabet) to capture the Slavic language in writing.

The language the brothers developed, known today as Old Bulgarian, fortified the spread of Christianity across Eastern Europe. The brothers died in 869 and 882. But as a posthumous reward for their noble efforts, the East Frankish clergy outlawed the brothers’ language and imprisoned 200 of their students and disciples.

Old Bulgarian posed a political threat to the West. The codification of civil laws in a non-Latin, non-Germanic text limited Frankish-German control over the Slavic rulers. But ironically, the exile and diaspora of the users of Old Bulgarian to other parts of Eastern Europe only served to spread the knowledge and use of the language.

The Glagolitic alphabet was soon replaced with a descendant called Cyrillic (sorry Methodius), developed by a student of theirs, and is still in use over a thousand years later.

It wasn’t until the 1880s that the Saintly brothers got their own feast day in the Roman Catholic Church (July 5), and in 1980 Pope John Paul II deemed Cyril and Methodius two patron saints of Europe.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saints Cyril and Methodius Day is observed on May 11 (Julian calendar) which is May 24 in the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as the Day of Letters.

In the Roman Catholic Church, their feast day is February 14.


Easter: Dates

April 4, 2010
April 24, 2011
April 8, 2012
Despite the overwhelming secular popularity of Christmas in the Western world, the big daddy of all Christian holidays is actually Easter. It’s the oldest Christian holiday and the most important.

No one knows for sure how the term Easter came to be. It probably derived from Oestre, the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring, Fertility and New Life. Which helps to explain why we still celebrate the resurrection with bunny rabbits and painted eggs.

But in French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, and Danish, the words for Easter (Paques, Paschen, Pasqua, Pascua, Pask, and Paasske) all come from the Latin Paschalia, itself was a variant of the Greek Pascha, a term used by early Christians to refer to the even older Hebrew word Pesach, aka Passover. Pesach was the holiday Jesus and his Disciples were celebrating on the occasion of the Last Supper.

In the United States, by far the most common method for determining the date of Easter is by scanning the Sundays in March or April for the one that says “Easter” on your calendar. This proven technique has not failed me in all my years of prognostication.

But if you chronophiles want to get a little more complicated, Easter falls on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.

But if you really want to get freaky with the details…

…and believe me, you don’t…

Since the date of Easter determines the dates of so many other Christian holidays from the Triodion to Ash Wednesday to Pentecost, it was of paramount importance in the early days of the church, that Western and Eastern Churches agree on the same day to celebrate. Which, of course, they almost never do

In the first centuries after Christ, Eastern Churches related the date of Easter to the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Passover falls on the 14th day, or full moon, of the month of Nisan. However, since the Jews at that time used a lunar calendar the date of Passover would change in relation to the solar calendar.

The Roman Church decreed that Easter should fall each year on a Sunday, and should show relevance to the solar, rather than the lunar calendar.

The Eastern Church used a 19-year “paschal” cycle to determine the annual date of Easter. (In the fifth century BC the Greek astronomer Meton had discovered that the 19 year solar calendar coincided with the 235 month lunar calendar, with a differentiation of approximately 2 hours.)

The Roman Church on the other hand, developed an 84-year paschal cycle, which is roughly the formula we use today. The Sunday following the first full moon after the equinox. In the Roman Catholic Church’s definition, the Spring Equinox is fixed on March 21. Thus the earliest Easter could fall is March 22.

The Eastern Church no longer relates Easter to Passover, but maintains that Easter should not fall before or during the Jewish holiday. Also the Eastern Church uses the actual spring equinox as measured from Jerusalem, site of the crucifixion, and follows the Julian Calendar rather than the Gregorian, adding to the complication of the dates. Still, Western and Eastern Easters do sometimes fall on the same date as they did on April 8, 2007.

2008 marks one of the earliest possible Easters, on March 23, only two days after the equinox. The ancient pagan traditions and rituals of spring have not only refused to die, they have become forever intertwined with the celebration of Easter.

published March 23, 2008

Pascha – Orthodox Church

April 24, 2011

April 4, 2010

In March the Protestant and Catholic Churches celebrated Easter; last week Jehovah’s Witnesses observed the Memorial of Christ’s Death; but today the Eastern Orthodox Church gets the last word, celebrating the Resurrection in what is known in many countries as Pascha.

The English word Easter is thought to derive from early pagan deities such as Eostre. In most Christian countries the holiday celebrating the Resurrection is referred to by variants on the Greek Pascha. (Pascha, or pesach in Hebrew, was the holiday Jesus and His disciples observed on the occasion of the Last Supper. Often translated as “pass over,” pesach can also mean “hover over” as in to protect, or safeguard.)

The Orthodox Paschal cycle repeats every 19 years, as opposed to the Western Paschal cycle, which repeats every 84 years. One proviso of the Orthodox date of Pascha is that it cannot fall before the Jewish Passover, which partly accounts for the different dates when Easter is celebrated.

Lewis Patsavos, in Dating Pascha in the Orthodox Church, points out a conundrum in the New Testament:

In the Gospels the Last Supper is described as a Passover meal, while St. John records the death of Christ as the same hour in which paschal lambs were sacrificed in preparation for the holiday.

Two traditions grew out of this discrepancy. One in which Pascha was observed on Passover itself, “regardless of the day of the week. The other observed it on the Sunday following Passover.”

The latter approach won out, which is why virtually all Churches celebrate Pascha on Sunday.

In Pascha Means Passover Reverend Anthony Michaels draws an analogy between the sacrifice of the lambs in Egypt by the Hebrews, the blood of which was meant to protect them from the tenth plague, and the “Sacrifice of the Son of God who is the ‘lamb that takes away the sin of the world.'”

The site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection is believed to be the present day site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.


“It stands on a site that encompasses both Golgotha, or Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, and the tomb (sepulchre) where he was buried. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been an important pilgrimage destination since the 4th century, and it remains the holiest Christian site in the world.”

Sacred Destinations